24 Hours with “Gov” Chavit Sing­son

Esquire (Philippines) - - THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE WORLD -

SING­SON’S BIRTHDAY. HE HAD SPENT HIS ac­tual birthday cel­e­brat­ing in Hong Kong the week be­fore, but come Mon­day, he was back at the of­fice of First Global Tran­sit, an on­line pay­ment so­lu­tions com­pany and one of his newer business in­ter­ests, and the team wanted to show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Three at­trac­tive women in stilet­tos led the pro­ces­sion to Sing­son’s cor­ner of­fice, sing­ing “Happy Birthday” and car­ry­ing a Jura cof­fee ma­chine box topped with a bow (if you were won­der­ing what to get the man who has ev­ery­thing). The women each gave their boss a buss on the cheek, and he pro­ceeded to un­nec­es­sar­ily un­wrap the present, which was ob­vi­ously a Jura cof­fee maker, one or more of which he al­ready owns in one or more of his houses.

The man known as Gov­er­nor was in a good mood. He had just turned 76, sur­vived a re­cent heart at­tack, a heli­copter crash, as well as seven at­tempts on his life through­out his sto­ried ca­reer in pol­i­tics. De­spite his name be­ing at­tached to nu­mer­ous con­tro­ver­sies over the last two decades, his lat­est head­line­mak­ing ex­ploits were mostly pos­i­tive, con­cern­ing the suc­cess­ful, if not costly, mount­ing of the Miss Uni­verse 2016 pageant. Presently, he is the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cilor of Nar­va­can, Ilo­cos Sur (pop. 44,000), hav­ing maxed out his terms as Gov­er­nor of the province for a to­tal of nearly 29 years. Some say he wanted to take con­trol of Nar­va­can, which was ruled by the Zaragoza po­lit­i­cal clan, but Sing­son in­sists he only wants to help the poor town, which he claims has not pros­pered de­spite re­ceiv­ing mil­lions from the to­bacco ex­cise tax. He has filed a plun­der case against the Zaragozas for mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing said funds. Chavit him­self was charged back in 2002 with three counts of graft for al­legedly divert­ing P26 mil­lion in to­bacco ex­cise taxes (au­di­tors would later find P1.3 bil­lion un­ac­counted for), but years of de­lay in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to the dis­missal of the cases—yet an­other lucky es­cape for the Gov with nine lives.

Sing­son took us to lunch at Dario’s, a new Ital­ian restau­rant he owns in Seren­dra, BGC. Maybe he thought it would be prof­itable to get into the restau­rant in­dus­try, or maybe he just re­ally liked the food at Caruso and wanted to fund the co-founder’s break­away restau­rant. In any case, it’s al­ways a good idea to have an en­tire restau­rant to your­self when you need it. “Don Cor­leone!” Dario Gar­dini, the chef and co-owner, greeted Sing­son warmly. Sing­son sat down at the cen­ter of a long ta­ble next to the three at­trac­tive women he calls his An­gels. I learn that two of them work at the of­fice and while the other one was “on call,” mean­ing she shows up to events as needed. They are just a part of the re­volv­ing en­tourage that Chavit rolls with; he is never by him­self, and he is never not mak­ing deals. On the side, he met with his daugh­ter Richelle, an of­fi­cer in his hold­ing com­pany The LCS Group, to talk fi­nances and sign checks. A group of Chi­nese busi­ness­men were wait­ing at an­other ta­ble to pro­pose a pos­si­ble in­vest­ment in a car man­u­fac­tur­ing plant. Dario would come and serve cour­ses of von­gole and ravi­oli while dis­cussing plans about the restau­rant he and Sing­son are set­ting up in Vi­gan. He too will be fly­ing with us to Chavit’s home­town af­ter lunch; it will be Dario’s first time to in­spect the fa­cil­i­ties, which will be right in the mid­dle of Sing­son’s fa­mous pri­vate zoo.

Lunch over, we fol­low Sing­son’s black Hum­mer to the hangar where, to our mild dis­ap­point­ment, we’re told we won’t be tak­ing his pri­vate jet, which is kept on standby for the Pres­i­dent. We board his pri­vate pro­pel­ler char­ter, whose ex­tra seats were opened up to pub­lic pas­sen­gers. From the Vi­gan air­port— built in the style of a her­itage house, by Sing­son, of course—we were whisked away to Balu­arte, a 100-hectare prop­erty where wild deer roam and at least 12 (14? 16? “More than 10, less than 20”) Ben­gal tigers are kept. There are os­triches, ze­bras, camels, and wal­la­bies scat­tered about the area, with more to be brought in, us­ing what­ever ex­trale­gal method re­quired to trans­port pro­tected species from their home­land (he in­forms us that two gi­raffes have al­ready died in tran­sit). But the real spec­ta­cle of Balu­arte is his mu­seum of dead things, or his hunt­ing tro­phy room called the Sa­fari Gallery, housed in what ap­pro­pri­ately looks like a mau­soleum from the out­side, with its Ro­man pil­lars and ham­mered cop­per mu­ral de­pict­ing the wild an­i­mals of Africa on its fa­cade.

A po­lar bear, stand­ing fe­ro­ciously tall; a lion posed to look like it is at­tack­ing a buf­falo, a black bear, look­ing more afraid of you than you are of them, a black rhino, nearly ex­tinct; sev­eral types of an­te­lope, their heads mounted on the walls; a hip­popota­mus, its enor­mous jaws propped open wide, and a beau­ti­ful lit­tle leop­ard, which Sing­son says he is not sat­is­fied with be­cause of its size— th­ese are all of the an­i­mals he has shot and killed, and as far as hunt­ing bucket list goes, he has killed them all. In a con­vo­luted way, big game hunt­ing is rea­soned to help in an­i­mal con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, as the fees for th­ese lim­ited hunt­ing per­mits, which only the very wealthy can af­ford, are meant to go back into the com­mu­nity to help main­tain the rest of the wildlife that aren’t ear­marked for ex­e­cu­tion. Sing­son paid $200,000 to hunt the ele­phant in Zim­babwe. He also spent an­other $50,000 to have it stuffed—or “pre­served,” in hunt­ing par­lance—plus more than that com­bined to ship it back to the Philip­pines.

Glenn Gale, a veteran colum­nist, so­cial insider and buddy of Chavit, noted with amuse­ment that “the big­gest at­trac­tion in the gallery is Chavit him­self,” when visi­tors spot­ted the Gov­er­nor and started swarm­ing around him with selfie sticks. Whether they see him as a home­town hero, pow­er­ful war­lord or just a wildly suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur, Sing­son’s re­pute cer­tainly car­ries more ca­chet than your run-the-mill celebrity.

Among the tro­phy pho­to­graphs hung on the walls of the gallery were the odd paint­ings, and I mean odd: Chavit as a cen­taur, and a 2D paint­ing of a tiger whose head man­ages to holo­graph­i­cally morph into Chavit’s. Two framed news­pa­per clip­pings com­mem­o­rate a dif­fer­ent kind of hunt—the at­tempt on his

life in 1972 by way of hand grenade. In the pho­to­graph, the dazed 30-year-old newly elected gov­er­nor lay in a hos­pi­tal bed look­ing at his blood­ied barong. The cap­tion to the AP wire photo reads: Sing­son was in­jured in a hand grenade at­tack killing 17 per­sons and in­jur­ing nearly 100 in a crowded town square. The at­tack was at­trib­uted to po­lit­i­cal feud­ing and rel­a­tives say it was the fifth at­tempt to as­sas­si­nate since elec­tion last Novem­ber. “I was danc­ing with a fat lady,” Sing­son says. “She shielded me.” The lady did not sur­vive.

Sing­son, by all means, seems like a man to be feared. Aside from the po­lit­i­cal turf bat­tles and gang­land bru­tal­ity that comes with be­ing a pro­vin­cial ruler, there are the other sto­ries—like the al­leged beat­ing of his for­mer wife Rachel Tiong­son and her lover, af­ter they were caught in fla­grante. It was widely be­lieved, but never proven, that while he was deputy Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor for Pres­i­dent Ar­royo, Sing­son or one of his hench­men mu­ti­lated the man’s pe­nis and even kept pho­to­graphs of it. To the me­dia, Sing­son would al­ter­nately con­firm and deny that he abused the cou­ple, but he was not ter­ri­bly con­vinc­ing with state­ments like, “They should be thank­ful I didn’t kill them,” or “They de­served to die.” Tiong­son, the mother of five of his chil­dren, even­tu­ally dropped the charges against him, her rep­u­ta­tion de­stroyed as she was painted as a gold-dig­ging adul­ter­ess who de­served to be smacked around, never mind that Sing­son him­self was a hard­core phi­lan­derer.

Which makes his pa­tron­age of the Miss Uni­verse com­pe­ti­tion some­what prob­lem­atic, although peo­ple seemed to con­ve­niently for­get the al­le­ga­tions in fa­vor of the glitz and glam­our that Sing­son rained down on the can­di­dates. It was ironic, or per­haps fit­ting, that the Miss Uni­verse Or­ga­ni­za­tion asked Sing­son to cough up an­other US$1 mil­lion for their “Women Em­pow­er­ment” pro­gram.

To be fair, Sing­son pulled off what was her­alded all around as one of the most suc­cess­ful and well-pro­duced pageants ever, bring­ing it back from the precipice of can­cel­la­tion when the MUO pulled out af­ter Pres­i­dent Duterte’s Hitler re­marks and “putang ina” ref­er­ence to Pres­i­dent Obama. Wil­liam Mor­ris En­ter­tain­ment, the com­pany that owns MUO, is headed by Ari Emanuel, the Hol­ly­wood su­per­a­gent (and Jewish Amer­i­can) whose brother Rahm hap­pened to be Obama’s for­mer Chief of Staff. The or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fered $US3 mil­lion in set­tle­ment, but Sing­son’s

lawyer said they were en­ti­tled to US$10 mil­lion for the breach of con­tract, since they had paid the de­posit in full.

“I wrote them a let­ter: ‘you can can­cel it and I won’t file dam­ages. But I hope you re­con­sider. You will lose cred­i­bil­ity,’” Sing­son says. “I showed them I was not in­ter­ested in money. Af­ter a month, they agreed to come back.” Sing­son had also sent his Is­raeli business part­ner, a friend of Emanuel’s, to con­vince the or­ga­ni­za­tion to change their mind. He then made sure that the can­di­dates’ every need was catered to, buy­ing a new yacht, a plane, and 30 buses to tour them around and show them a good time, spend­ing an ad­di­tional US$1 mil­lion on pri­vate se­cu­rity.

The stag­ing of the pageant fell to him like many of the other busi­nesses he’s in­volved in— peo­ple just come to him with ideas, schemes, and propo­si­tions. He passes them down to his CEO to study be­fore he makes a de­ci­sion. This is partly how he’s come to have such var­ied and wide-rang­ing in­ter­ests from to­bacco, con­struc­tion, min­ing, trans­porta­tion, and ho­tels, to fi­nan­cial ser­vices like re­mit­tances, bank­ing, mi­cro­fi­nanc­ing and on­line pay­ments, and ran­dom ones like the restau­rant, Miss U, and a sport­ing goods store fran­chise. Is there any in­dus­try he’s not dipped his paws in? Sing­son pauses to think. “No….al­most ev­ery­thing. La­hat.”

Sing­son emerged as a na­tional fig­ure in 2000, when the then-gov­er­nor of Ilo­cos Sur dropped the A-bomb that his long­time drink­ing and gam­bling buddy Erap was the “lord of all jueteng lords.” He ac­cused the Pres­i­dent of col­lect­ing P5 mil­lion in pro­tec­tion money from jueteng op­er­a­tors every month— he would know, be­cause he was the bag­man. He also blew the whis­tle on Erap’s par­tak­ing of P70 mil­lion from the to­bacco ex­cise funds of his province (we’ll get back to this to­bacco tax later), which led to the im­peach­ment trial, which led to EDSA 2, and the rest is… sub­ject to re­vi­sion­ist his­tory.

“They were go­ing to kill me,” Sing­son ex­plains. “I did it for sur­vival.” The Gov­er­nor had got­ten word that he was about to be tar­geted by Estrada’s goons. On Oct 3, 2000, Sing­son’s ve­hi­cle was stopped by sev­eral po­lice­men for run­ning a red light. Sens­ing an am­bush, Sing­son some­how man­aged to es­cape. (The ousted Pres­i­dent later de­nied that he would do such a thing to his friend). How­ever, all’s well that ends well—when Erap’s mother, Mary Ejercito, died at 103 years old in Jan­uary 2009, Sing­son de­cided to show up at the fu­neral. “Nag­u­lat sila,” he re­counts. “Ev­ery­one parted, parang suk­lay. But I wasn’t guilty, so I had noth­ing to be afraid of.” The old pals rec­on­ciled, they be­gan at­tend­ing each other’s par­ties again, and Sing­son even had his star­ring role edited out of Erap’s con­spir­acy video—the film the for­mer pres­i­dent makes all his house guests watch. He laughs at the mem­ory. Good times with Chavit Sing­son.


OF BALU­ARTE STANDS A GOLDEN TOWER NINE sto­ries high. It used to be Sing­son’s “hide­away” when he wanted to lay low in Vi­gan, but he’s since built a more un­der­stated villa, one not sheathed like a glit­tery disco ball. We tour the cir­cu­lar build­ing start­ing at the rooftop bar, which has sweep­ing views of the province, with the West Philip­pine Sea to the west and the Cordilleras to the east. The bar area is fash­ioned like a cave carved from sand­stone, but it’s all made out of plas­ter. On a lower level is Sing­son’s pri­vate suite, where a bronze tiger head hangs in lieu of a door­knob. The room is ev­ery­thing you would ex­pect from a larg­erthan-life fig­ure like Chavit—leather couches, shag car­pet­ing, first-class cabin mas­sage chairs, cowhide, shiny mar­ble sur­faces, and yes, a hot tub that can fit “eight Brazil­ian mod­els” (I don’t re­mem­ber who ex­actly said this, but it was said). Promi­nently dis­played on the night­stand is a framed photo of Sing­son and Paris Hil­ton, who he says was one of the first guests to party at his pad.

Sing­son is proud of the things he’s built. “This pil­lar cost P2.5 mil­lion,” he says, point­ing to a mas­sive post en­crusted with mother-ofpearl. There were four of them in the lobby. Balu­arte is free of charge, any­one can come in

to look at the an­i­mals, dead and alive, and if you’re lucky you could prob­a­bly have an ogle in­side the golden ci­tadel. We also checked out the new Sa­fari Lodge where Dario’s restau­rant was go­ing to be lo­cated. When com­pleted, guests can stay at the lodge, with its South African-in­spired cot­tages fronting Sing­son’s sa­van­nah. LED palm trees dot the grounds, prob­a­bly to re­mind you that you’re not re­ally in Africa, but in Chavit’s world of pure imag­i­na­tion.

We were bil­leted at Chavit’s Vi­gan ho­tel, the lovely Ho­tel Luna, an ar­chi­tec­tural hy­brid with one part be­ing a re­stored an­ces­tral house that con­nects seam­lessly with a com­pletely new struc­ture. A col­lec­tion of art­works from Philip­pine mas­ters like BenCab, Napoleon Abueva, Juan Luna, Ra­mon Or­lina, Araceli Dans et al makes it a mu­seum des­ti­na­tion in it­self, but you’re more likely to waste time fig­ur­ing out the high tech Ja­panese toi­let in­side the bath­room. Be­fore din­ner, we walked sev­eral blocks down cob­ble­stone streets to Plaza Sal­cedo to catch Vi­gan’s sec­ond most bizarre at­trac­tion: the danc­ing foun­tain show.

Con­ser­va­tion purists would prob­a­bly balk at what tran­spires nightly at the plaza named af­ter the founder of Vi­gan city. But the lo­cals seem to en­joy this mod­ern ad­di­tion to their UNESCO Her­itage Site. At one end of the plaza stands the haunt­ing Vi­gan Cathe­dral, where Floro Crisol­ogo, Sing­son’s uncle and po­lit­i­cal foe, was shot dead while kneel­ing for com­mu­nion back in 1970. The P10-mil­lion mu­si­cal foun­tain with Korean tech­nol­ogy was in­stalled in 2013, a gift to the town spear­headed by which­ever Sing­son kin was in charge at the time. We went up to a special air­con­di­tioned view­ing box to watch the show.

Lasers pro­jected a sil­hou­ette of the Gov­er­nor on a fine mist of wa­ter that sur­rounded the obelisk in the cen­ter of the plaza’s re­flect­ing pool. Hy­drotech­ni­cal mad­ness en­sued: From K-Pop to Bey­once to “Tw­erkin’ Like Mi­ley” to Ce­line Dion, wa­ter squirted, sprayed and splooged in time to the mu­sic and pul­sat­ing neon lights. The chore­og­ra­phy—if you could call it that—was mes­mer­iz­ing, with the glow­ing liq­uid ris­ing and fall­ing rhyth­mi­cally like wa­ter sprites. I think I lost my mind in those 30 min­utes.

Af­ter that lit­tle slice of Burj Khal­ifa, we made our way to BarTech, which, need­less to say, Sing­son owns. Din­ing al fresco among a mix of au­then­ti­cally di­lap­i­dated build­ings and care­fully re­con­structed ones cer­tainly has its charm, bring­ing to mind other colo­nial His­panic towns where all the action hap­pens on the streets. And a street din­ner hosted by Chavit for visi­tors wouldn’t be com­plete with­out a cul­tural show. A cul­tural show in Chav­it­land, how­ever, in­volves a troupe of fe­male per­form­ers, also called Chavit’s An­gels, who dance to the lat­est Bruno Mars hits in tiny shorts. The males are just called Chavit Dancers. They’re all schol­ars from Ilo­cos Sur who en­ter­tain at fiestas around the province, and get busy par­tic­u­larly dur­ing cam­paign sea­son. Af­ter their set, the girls lined up to give Il Padrino a kiss.

Tonight, Sing­son brought out Dayo, his black pan­ther. The man known for his ob­ses­sion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with tigers was show­ing a lit­tle love for one of his other cats (his leop­ard and white lion will have to wait their turn). A black pan­ther is ac­tu­ally a leop­ard with melanism, I learn. “Manong Chavit has al­ways loved an­i­mals,” Ger­ma­line Sing­son-Goulart, his younger sis­ter and cur­rent mayor of Caoayan, Ilo­cos Sur, tells us. Col­lect­ing wild an­i­mals on one hand and tro­phy-hunt­ing big game on the other con­sti­tute a rather unique kind of love, one would think. A dish of freshly shot wild duck adobo was served. Sing­son had once got­ten flak for hunt­ing the ap­par­ently en­dan­gered Philip­pine wild duck, but he ar­gues that wild ducks are plenty in sup­ply, to the point of in­fes­ta­tion. “Ki­nakain namin,” Sing­son says. “Pero min­san,” he chuck­les, “may nai­i­wan na bala.”

Germy, as the mayor is known, re­calls the time when the trou­bles started: “The Crisol­o­gos put up a to­bacco block­ade in the ‘60s. To­bacco grown here is sold in places like Pam­panga and Tar­lac, but the Crisol­o­gos started their own redry­ing plant and mo­nop­o­lized the trade. To­bacco farm­ers couldn’t sell their leaves out­side the province any­more.” Floro Crisol­ogo was a Con­gress­man while his wife Carmel­ing was gov­er­nor; the fam­ily acted with typ­i­cal war­lordesque im­punity. Their pri­vate army of saka-saka burned two Ilo­cano barangays to the ground sim­ply for sup­port­ing op­po­si­tion can­di­dates. A few months later, Floro was shot in the cathe­dral, af­ter, ac­cord­ing to one au­thor, he threat­ened to ex­pose Pres­i­dent Mar­cos and Gen­eral Ver for grab­bing the lion’s share of the pro­ceeds from the to­bacco monopoly.

It was in the midst of this tur­moil that Sing­son came to power. Sing­son was Floro’s nephew, and had been ap­pointed by him as Vi­gan Chief of Po­lice at the age of 21. Sing­son’s par­ents al­ready owned a to­bacco plan­ta­tion, and the en­tre­pre­neur­ial Sing­son soon be­came the big­gest ship­per of to­bacco in the province. Nat­u­rally, he op­posed the block­ade, and soon the two fam­i­lies turned against each other, of­ten vi­o­lently. Ilo­cos Sur was the Wild West, and blood ran down its streets at alarm­ing lev­els (Sing­son, a trained mor­ti­cian, also hap­pened to own the lo­cal fu­neral par­lor. And peo­ple won­der how he got rich?) Some­one had to stand up to

the Crisol­o­gos and their reign of ter­ror, and for the long-suf­fer­ing res­i­dents of Ilo­cos Sur, that per­son was Chavit Sing­son. “I put an end to the killings when I be­came gov­er­nor in 1971,” Sing­son says. He had con­fis­cated some 7,000 guns, dis­man­tling the saka-saka.

Of ev­ery­thing he’s done, he con­sid­ers his most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment to be the cre­ation of Repub­lic Act 7171, a law Sing­son au­thored dur­ing his only term as a con­gress­man from 1987-1992. The To­bacco Ex­cise Tax Law re­turns 15 per­cent of gov­ern­ment tax col­lected from the to­bacco in­dus­try back to the Vir­ginia to­bacco leaf­pro­duc­ing prov­inces: Ilo­cos Norte, La Union, Abra, and Ilo­cos Sur, which grows 60 per­cent of the yield. In the­ory, it’s a great law in­tended to im­prove the lives of the farm­ers through fund­ing in­fras­truc­ture, agri­cul­tural and co­op­er­a­tive projects. “Ilo­cos Sur used to be a fifth class province, one of the poor­est in the coun­try. Now it’s a first class province,” Sing­son says. With such an im­mense purse, how­ever, graft and cor­rup­tion are never far be­hind (Ilo­cos Norte gov­er­nor Imee Mar­cos is the lat­est of­fi­cial to be em­broiled in a to­bacco funds mis­use scan­dal). Dur­ing Estrada’s im­peach­ment trial, Sing­son ad­mit­ted that he “agreed to be used by a cor­rupt pres­i­dent,” when he al­lowed Estrada to em­bez­zle the to­bacco rev­enues. Just that one time, though, he added.

The next morn­ing, we pre­pared to leave Vi­gan, armed with sev­eral ki­los of long­gan­isa and bag­net cour­tesy of the Gov­er­nor. He had a den­tal ap­point­ment to catch, af­ter which he’ll take us on a quick spin on his new su­pery­acht, the M/Y Happy Life. At the back of the plane, I tried to sneak in a nap (balling with Chavit was hard work), but the ruckus up front kept me from doz­ing off. Sing­son was play­ing a hand of cards with the flight at­ten­dant, who shrieked and laughed hys­ter­i­cally. Glenn Gale would later say that this was one of the rare mo­ments he’s seen Sing­son truly re­laxed.

On the boat, which was docked at the Manila Yacht Club, we were joined by Sing­son’s doc­tor and fam­ily. It is ap­par­ent that Sing­son hates be­ing alone—he says he feels lonely. We in­spect the P600 mil­lion, 42.5 me­ter Ital­ian yacht—the largest in the Philip­pines—with eight cab­ins, beau­ti­ful wood de­tail­ing all through­out, and a karaoke room with a col­or­ful tent-like ceil­ing. Glenn in­forms us that the boat’s pre­vi­ous owner was an Arab ty­coon, hence the Be­douin touches. Sing­son has yet to sail it out­side the Manila Bay, but let’s be hon­est, this is a party boat first and fore­most. Sing­son most re­cently en­ter­tained a dozen am­bas­sadors aboard the Happy Life; I won­dered if he also made them, as well as the Miss U can­di­dates, take their shoes off and put on rub­ber slip­pers to pro­tect the plush white in­te­rior car­pet­ing.

I had to ask, weren’t the am­bas­sadors afraid of the Gov­er­nor given his rep­u­ta­tion, and their pos­si­ble mis­com­pre­hend­ing of lo­cal pol­i­tics? Glenn, who has ob­served a lot of Sing­son’s so­cial ma­neu­ver­ings, says that there were a cou­ple who re­buffed his in­vi­ta­tions, but he even­tu­ally won them over, and even in­tro­duced them to women whom they ended up mar­ry­ing. Sing­son likes to keep peo­ple on their toes, though—I can imag­ine the un­com­fort­able laugh­ter at quips he makes about feed­ing his tigers: “one hun­dred ki­los of chicken; some­times, my en­e­mies.” His as­so­ci­a­tions with the emis­saries are mu­tu­ally valu­able—they make Sing­son look like an up­stand­ing ci­ti­zen, while they get ac­cess to ar­range­ments that could ben­e­fit their home coun­tries. Re­cently, Sing­son opened the Vi­gan Banco In­ter­na­cional with branches in Mex­ico, Puerto Rico and Los An­ge­les upon a tip from one diplo­mat con­cern­ing the huge de­mand for re­mit­tance cen­ters among Latino mi­grant work­ers.

“It’s not yours un­less you spend it,” Sing­son likes to say. “Alam ko di ko madadala eh.” Like his pal Pac­quiao, he’s very gen­er­ous with his wealth, but un­like the Se­na­tor-Boxer, he’s in­vested wisely and widely (he at­tempted to give a heap of money away to de­serv­ing peo­ple on his TV show Happy Life, but he says most of them squan­dered their award.) With over a hun­dred firms in sev­eral coun­tries and none of them listed, save for one min­ing com­pany in Canada, we can only es­ti­mate how much he’s re­ally worth. In one En­tre­pre­neur ar­ti­cle, Sing­son put his net rev­enues at P120 mil­lion a month, but judg­ing from the re­ac­tions of his co­horts, that’s likely a low­ball fig­ure.


WANTS TO LIVE HIS BEST HAPPY LIFE: TO be sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful women, play a few games of chance, and spend his hard­earned cash. Af­ter all, he raked in his first mil­lions from the to­bacco trade at a young age, half a cen­tury ago. When he was in his early 20s, he made enough money to pur­chase the Vi­gan elec­tri­cal plant, and he con­tin­ues to ac­quire prof­itable busi­nesses to this day. At 76, any plans for re­tire­ment are off the ta­ble. “Kakalawan­gin ka,” he says. He’s still wheel­ing and deal­ing, putting stock in fu­ture op­er­a­tions, and buy­ing up most of the Philip­pine coast­line where black sand beaches will be mined for mag­netite. This could be an en­vi­ron­men­tal disas­ter in the off­ing—think large-scale ero­sion—but the Gov­er­nor begs to dif­fer, say­ing re­spon­si­ble min­ing would keep it in check. Sing­son may be ad­mired and feared for the things he’s done in the past, but the truth is, he’s only just Vi­gan.

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